We know the positives of Early Access. You can release your game early, you can get regular feedback, you can iterate and improve the game with the community.
We’re three years in with Rust’s Early Access. We’ve put out updates every week for over 150 weeks, and the community have come to expect them. The updates have become part of a weekly routine for tens of thousands of people around the world.
STILL in EA??
Occasionally we get complaints that we’re still in early access. It’s hard for us to comprehend what they’re actually complaining about, but they do make us realise that we’ve forgotten that we are in Early Access.
I logged in to play @playrust and it's still in Alpha? What a joke! Early Access since December 2013? EA should never be permanent.
— T3ddy J0nes (@RealTeddyJones) May 22, 2017
Early Access means different things to different people.
Do you want us to come out of early access and never update it again? Do you feel like we’ve just been fixing bugs for 3 years, and should be done by now? Do you think that pressing the button on Steam’s backend that takes us out of Early Access will change the game in some way?
Avoiding The Cycle
We’ve been in a feature creep cycle of bullshit for a while. We’ll ask ourselves the question “what needs to happen before we leave EA” and the more we think about it the bigger the list of ambitions gets.
In the old days feature creep was finite because game developers had a deadline. They had to print the game onto a tape, or disk or disc and send it out into the world, at that point it was done. We don’t have that luxury now.
The temptation is to think of leaving Early Access as a declaration that the game is finished, but I don’t believe that’s what it means.
Ready To Leave
To me it comes down to a single question:
“If early access didn’t exist – would we release this game?”
Once you put it in these simple terms, it’s easy to answer. We definitely would have released it by now. We obviously wouldn’t have stopped updating it yet (and we don’t plan to stop updating it after we leave EA), but it would have been on Steam by now.
So our plan is to add a bit more help to the game (so first time players can actually open the inventory menu without reading guides on the internet), and then quietly slip out of Early Access.